Does this ever happen to you? You’re at a social function chatting
to some stranger. They ask you what you do, you explain and before you
know it, they say: ’Wouldn’t Cornflakes be cheaper if Kellogg’s didn’t
spend millions on ads?’ or, invariably in an aggressive tone of voice:
’Of course, all that advertising is wasted on me. It’s never made me buy
Do you a) look at your watch and walk away, b) find out what they do and
trash it, c) argue the toss, or d) offer to lend them a copy of Winston
Fletcher’s new book, Advertising Advertising, promising them that if
that doesn’t shut them up, nothing will?
Me, I always choose c) and advance with my opening gambit, pointing out
that 75 per cent of people in this country like advertising. If this
fails to impress, I attack on the flanks by reminding them that it pays
for or subsidises the media they consume. And if this isn’t enough I
offer to inspect the contents of their wardrobe, fridge or kitchen
cupboards where, I say, I know I will find evidence of the persuasive
power of brand advertising.
But no longer. In future I shall go straight to option d), whose central
theme is designed to show that advertising actually benefits the
consumer, and not just as a form of entertainment, visual or
As he almost always does, Fletcher has a point. Too often, when those of
us inside the business think about advertising, we think about it from
the narrower perspective of the media owner or the brand owner or even,
dare I say it, the agency. Hence, to the wider public, we can often
sound like apologists for something which, we suspect, we force on
consumers. Fletcher’s premise, however, is that advertising benefits
society as a whole - in other words, while it clearly works for
advertisers and media owners, its function as a medium of information
and instrument of choice also makes it invaluable to consumers - even if
they don’t think of it that way. Moreover, in the way that it enhances
our enjoyment of products (however illusory), it adds to human
For an industry that too often finds itself on the back foot, this book
is an important reminder of its role.
Fletcher’s book is not perfect, although it is not nearly as bad as
implied by a bitchy review in The Independent by Stephen Bayley (a man
who is increasingly the Loyd Grossman of design and advertising
If advertising is good for us, why, as a Lowe Howard-Spink research
project shows, is the proportion of people who actively avoid ads
This seems to be the central challenge the industry faces, yet Fletcher
doesn’t even acknowledge it.
Next, if advertising is good for consumers, we must assume that it also
works. Again, however, Fletcher neglects to address a central issue,
namely why clients increasingly question its efficacy.
Last, the book could have done with stricter editing. Fletcher is
allowed to wander down too many alleys which, while fun, make the book
twice as long as it need be.
Advertising Advertising is published by Profile Books, priced pounds